A convoy carrying a diplomatic team cautiously turns the corner in the Middle Eastern village of Turmenystan. The diplomats are racing against time to meet with an assembly of village leaders to stop the spread of a growing crisis.
The lead security element in a Sport Utility Vehicle passes an abandoned car. Wisps of dust waft through its smashed windshield. Silently emerging from the derelict auto’s darkened interior, an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) with a small, almost imperceptible device taped beneath it shoots out and hovers in front of the diplomatic convoy.
There is no time for the startled driver to physically react before the UAS swoops down and slams into the passenger side of a targeted car. In a roaring flash, a senior diplomat and his closest advisors disappear in a blinding ball of flame.
BUTLERVILLE, Indiana, This story has not happened yet but for the men and women conducting UAS Threat Experiment 2-16 at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, it’s not a matter of if, but when, the scenario is all too real. 25-29 JUL.
The Army S&T Systems Adaptive Red Team (ART) is sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics & Technology and works to identify potential vulnerabilities in emerging technologies and systems prior to placing them in the hands of the warfighter.
Their mission is to identify, mitigate or eliminate vulnerabilities or opportunities associated with high priority technologies of concern that could affect mission success, such as UAS, ground sensing, protection and survivability equipment and command and control. For Systems ART, this is accomplished by emulation, replicating, and assessing within field-based challenging scenarios and table top experiments, in a non-punitive [Red team-Blue Team] environment that captures detailed assessment data while promoting system development.
At the UAS Threat Experiment, which is run in a Red/Blue ‘blind’ fashion, the Systems ART mission focuses on getting ahead of emerging Group 1 UAS threat use around the globe. Within the team, a Red threat cell breaks missions into targeted data collection and development efforts. This Red cell serves as UAS pilots, crews, and tactical leads. An ART Blue cell controls counter-UAS (CUAS) systems, and a special ART White cell comprised of scientists and engineers performs data collection.
As specific threat capabilities and potential CUAS vulnerabilities are identified, the teams work to develop effective use strategies that become tactics, techniques, or procedures (TTP) that developing CUAS should be able to defeat.
“The ‘secret sauce’ of their success to-date has been a unique open and shared collaboration between government and industry stakeholders so that ‘development in the dirt’ occurs naturally on-site,” said Dr. Patrick Driscoll, Experiment Director for the UAS Threat experiments. He explained that this approach requires a good degree of flexibility in timing and execution by all participants during the experiment and a willingness to push what arrived as a fixed design CUAS into use modes that can often stress systems to failure.
“While perhaps not appropriate for all Army experiments, it is for Systems ART UAS Threat venues where Red cell pilots are willing to crash UAS to achieve mission success on static and moving targets,” said Driscoll.
Driscoll explained that the Systems Adaptive Red Team is not a single group from one organization; it is a community of like-minded and mission-focused military, defense department employees, government and civilian scientists, technicians and others who support the same unified goals.
“It is better to let a system fail here so it doesn’t happen out in the field when they [warfighter] are dependent on it for their safety,” Andy Dreby, Community of Interest (COI) event lead.
The benefits gained from their threat-focused research not only apply to military use but is also forwarded to other government agencies such as DHS, CBP, and elements of the Intelligence Community for strategic consideration in the civilian sector.
Pamela Rangel, the Systems ART Strategic Stakeholder Engagement Lead, highlighted that Army is investing a lot of money on UAS threat research Rangel said there is much we have to learn about working in UAS environments and that no all of that is related to potential threat actions.
Even innocent UAS activities sometimes negatively impact real world operations. Rangle recounted a recent experience in California where, ”rescue personnel had to shut down airborne firefighting operations due to a [civilian] UAS in the airspace,” She added that property and lives are at stake.
MUTC was selected as the location for UAS Threat 2-16 because of the full spectrum capabilities it offers – buildings complete with occupant materials, engineered rubble, flooded complex, 1.5 miles of subterranean tunnels, cellular and radio frequency (RF) interference generation, helicopter landing zones, and more. The 1000 acre former Indiana State Developmental Center makes an ideal location to replicate high threat urban scenarios.
The UAS Threat 2-16 experiment created a scenario in a neutral Middle Eastern country and used the MUTC to simulated the grounds and neighborhoods surrounding a simulated Embassy Consulate. In this setting, three objectives were pursued:
(1) Assess the viability and effectiveness of various improvised devices on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) platforms against static and moving targets, during day and night operations that include inclement weather conditions.
(2) Assess the effectiveness of threat use of fully autonomous UAS for offensive missions on moving targets in convoys or motorcades.
(3) Initiate investigation of the cellular network command and control in urban operations.
On hand for the experiment and to help provide context for predicting future threat UAS use was Dr. Robert J. Bunker, adjunct professor with the Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute. Bunker provides a copy of his publication from the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College Press, 2015; TERRORIST AND INSURGENT UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES. http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=1287
Bunker stressed the point that the current scenarios, while demanding, are not theory anymore but are based on real world events. He identified a recent social media posting 11 July 2016, by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of an Islamic State Improvised explosive device mounted on unmanned aerial system that had been shot down in a field near the city of Manbij, Syria.
From the span of conflict areas encompassing the globe to Homeland Defense and border protection in support of Civil/Military authorities, the rapidly evolving and adaptive use of small UAS presents an emerging threat and potential opportunity for the U.S. Army. Identifying, understanding, and validating these threats remains a considerable line of effort for the Army S&T Systems Adaptive Red Team.